Islamic State Driven From Town of Al-Baghdadi in Western Iraq Near Key Airbase

Members of Iraq's Popular Mobilisation units drive on the outskirts of the Iraqi town of Ad-Dawr, on March 6, 2015, during a military operation to recapture the Tikrit area. (PHOTO CREDIT: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP via Getty Images)
Members of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation units drive on the outskirts of the Iraqi town of Ad-Dawr, on March 6, 2015, during a military operation to recapture the Tikrit area. (PHOTO CREDIT: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP via Getty Images)

Islamic State fighters have been driven out of the town of Al-Baghdadi in western Iraq, reducing the threat to a nearby airbase where American advisers are stationed, the U.S. military said.

Iraqi soldiers and their tribal allies, supported by U.S. airstrikes, cleared the town of militants and recaptured three bridges over the Euphrates river and seven nearby villages, the military said in an e-mailed statement.

The Islamic State takeover of al-Baghdadi last month caused concern because of its proximity to the Ayn al-Assad airbase, where U.S. military advisers are training local forces. A group of militants, including several suicide bombers, were halted a month ago when they tried to enter the base.

The cooperation between the Iraqi and U.S. military in Baghdad contrasts with the offensive to recapture the town of Tikrit, north of Baghdad, from the jihadists. On that front, there have been no American airstrikes in support of the Iraqi units, while Iranian commanders are involved in planning and Iran-backed Shiite militias play a key combat role.

While the Tikrit offensive has dislodged Islamic State from nearby oilfields, it hasn’t yet penetrated far into the town itself. Sheikh Rafei Mishen al-Jumaily, head of a local tribe fighting alongside the jihadists, said by phone on Friday that Islamic State has sent reinforcements from Mosul, the largest town it controls in Iraq, to strengthen Tikrit’s defenses.

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SOURCE: Bloomberg, Zaid Sabah and David Lerman